Science of Sweat

If you abbreviate the title of this post it’s SoS which, to me, accurately describes sweat. It’s getting warmer on campus and while I love the sun and cool breezes, I’m one of those gross sweaters which I blame on my hair mostly. My hair is thick and dark which means it absorbs heat and keeps it there. So I can basically never wear my hair down in the summer.

This all inspired me to write about sweat. Firstly, there are two types of sweat.

  • Eccrine – Good sweat. Sweat produced from exercising and the body’s natural way of cooling itself down.
  • Apocrine – Bad sweat. Sweat that contains fatty acids and protein byproducts. The armpit, head, and butt sweat (i.e. my hair sweat and the really smelly sweat).

Despite some sweat being annoying and gross, the good sweat has several health benefits.

  • Produces endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters in our brains that produce a euphoric feeling. For example, after exercising, we feel good even if we were dragging our feet before. While some of that may be a psychological sense of accomplishment, part of it the endorphins our brains are soaking up post-workout. Good sweating only.
  • Opens pores. Heat in general does this as well, but when our pores are open, they’re easier to clean which can help prevent breakouts. This happens for good and bad sweat. WARNING: When our pores are open, they’re also easier to clog. So wash your face after the bad sweating.
  • Lowers blood pressure. Sweat is mostly water and salt. So when we sweat, we reduce the amount of sodium in our bodies which can contribute to high blood pressure. Good sweating only.
  • Prevents illness. I had a friend once who said if she was ever feeling sick, she would run and stop the cold before she caught it. While elevated body temperature does contribute to killing off some bacteria, sweat contains antimicrobial peptides called dermcidin which fights a variety of germs and a few diseases. Good sweating only.

While most of the effects on the above list are good for our healths, I attempted to note the potential effects of bad sweating as well. Feel free to add something in the comments or disagree with me.

Here are some things I do to avoid or control my sweating.

  • Wearing active wear. Active wear is designed to let out heat and not retain sweat so we don’t smell funky. I wear active wear year-round, unapologetically, and it’s really for everyone’s sake. Nobody likes sweaty Kay.
  • Keeping hair up (or cutting it). I did this last summer. I cut my hair short so it wasn’t resting against my neck. It worked, but I like my hair long. Now, I keep my hair in a constant bun and am trying to figure out how to make cute buns to add some variety to my hairstyle.
  • Dress for warmer weather than it actually is. Runners also do this too. Because my body temperature is seemingly always elevated, I add about ten degrees to the actual weather and dress for that. So I wear one less layer in the winter and as few layers as possible in the summer.
  • Take cold showers. Last summer, my apartment’s air conditioning broke, and it was unbelievably humid out. Taking cold showers lowered my body temperature, lowered the temperature of my hair, and kept me cool for a few hours.

If you have any advice to dealing with sweating and summer heat, leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear them. Here’s hoping everyone survives summer.

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